Yesterday was a national holiday in Korea, Children's Day. My husband had the day off. We walked to a nearly bakery and ate pastries for breakfast. Ymm. Fortunately, the bakery isn't too near by or we would walk there every morning. During the afternoon, he took a much needed nap. I took Buggy Boy out for a shopping excursion so my husband could lay on the floor and rest without being tackled and bitten every five minutes by a drooling 25 pound toddler.
Today I nearly went on a cleaning rampage. When my sister and I were kids, from time to time we noticed that toys, papers, and any items not safely hidden would suddenly all be missing as if there had been a "clutter rapture." We knew what had happened. Mom had gone on another cleaning rampage. A cleaning rampage is not just a thorough cleaning. No, it is a psychological breakdown. A person is compelled to throw away, recycle, burn, bury, or eat anything and everything which is not already perfectly clean and well organized. It is what happens when a stressed mother faces a mound of laundry and in desperation donates every item of clothing to Goodwill.
So I cleaned like a maniac but restrained myself from throwing away too many things. Here in Korea, it's not easy to get rid of things. There are almost no second hand stores and the few that exist don't take items for free. There are no yard sales. And you must pay a price to throw away garbage. My grandparents lived on a small ranch and used to burn their garbage. That's not an option for me. It's not safe to burn garbage in an apartment building on the 12th floor in the middle of a large city.
While I was cleaning I had opportunity to think through many of the comments I've gotten on my blog. I feel guilty that I'm not always so good about responding to you when you share your thoughts on my blog. I going to try to do better, I promise! It's been so refreshing to get feedback on my writing and to interact with other thinking people. Sigh. If only it were this easy to get a good conversation going with people I meet in person.
Here is a potpourri of thoughts I had in random order. Take 'em or leave 'em.
First, the Bible is a living document in that the Holy Spirit speaks through its words in a unique way. We do not control what the Bible says. Rather, we come under its control when we read it and submit to it. All Christians agree on that, I think. Yet, among some people who have a very high regard for the Bible, there is an over-emphasis on the method to use when studying the Bible. Some of the books I am reading were written by men who deeply respect the word of God. They are concerned by the liberal churches' rejection of the accuracy and authority of the Scripture. They are concerned by the Pentecostal/Charismatic emphasis on experience and emotion. They are worried about the postmodern approach which strips texts of any objective meaning. These men are Christians who love the Bible and have good motives. Yet I feel they have gone way overboard in a few ways. Because of their reaction against liberal/emotional/experiential means of interpreting the Bible, they have imposed a ruthlessly rigid and wooden method on Bible interpretation. I think they believe that by controlling the method, they can control the outcome and thus avoid any errant or "subjective" interpretation.
To some extent, I agree that controlling the method partially controls the outcome. But that doesn't make it right or practical or infallible. The Roman Catholic church had a similar fear of errant and individual interpretations. They solved that problem by imposing a strict control on Biblical interpretation by the church authorities. One book I am reading seems to be arguing along similar lines-- in a sense they are saying, "Unless we have a very strict method when approaching the Scripture we might (gasp!) make a mistake! We might err! Thus we must never, ever, ever think about just reading the Bible and understanding it. We must always study all the historical, cultural, grammatical, and linguistic background first and then we might be able to think about understanding it." (that is NOT an actual quote, just my summary)
I am not an anti-intellectual. Greek and Hebrew is practically a hobby for me. Biblical history fascinates me. I even love systematic theology and enjoy reading books on philosophy. I am not looking to feel mystical and spiritual while I ignore the Bible's meaning. I don't want to allegorize the Bible's meaning or look for strange hidden codes. At the same time, I don't think that imposing a rigid method to Bible study is all that helpful. Nor does it guard against error. I have read enough commentaries by scholars who are well-versed in Biblical languages and they still have disagreements. There is plenty of room for disagreement in matters such as eschatology (fancy word for end times prophecy), speaking in tongues, women's ministry, baptism and so on even for people who claim to take the Bible literally. I am not saying that none of those issues are important or that people can hold opposite viewpoints and both be right. But I am saying that having the "right" method is not enough to arrive at the truth about every issue every time.
The point of reading the Bible is not to quibble over who the Nephilim were, but to worship God through reading it and learn to obey him better. Over-emphasizing a method can make Bible study a burden rather than a joy. Sure, many people feel lost when trying to approach the Bible and can be helped greatly by a systematic method. But others, like this blogger, don't find a rigid method helpful at all.
Studying the Bible is not either an intellectual exercise or an emotional activity. Both intellect and emotion should be involved. Yet even intellect and emotion together are not adequate. We need more. We need the Holy Spirit. And God has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us at all times. As Kristen pointed out in her comment on my previous post, the Holy Spirit witnesses to truth as we study the Word. I know a lot of people who would condemn the witness of the Holy Spirit as being "too subjective." I disagree. The work of the Holy Spirit is not a wishy-washy, relative thing. We can observe the results of His work in the fruit produced in the life of a believer. The work of the Holy Spirit is mysterious and not subject to our control but it is real, valid, and necessary.
I do fear when I hear someone claim to hear things from the Holy Spirit that contradict the Bible or ignore the role of the church. And I sympathize with those people who want to protect the Bible from misuse and abuse. Yet we cannot entirely protect the Bible from people who are bent on subverting its meaning. The real problem in Bible interpretation is the sin in the interpreter, not lack of scholarship or improper methods. The only way to overcome the sin problem is by being cleansed from sin through the blood of Christ and then growing in faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. Since we are all in process, we need each other for balance and accountability. As we interpret the Bible, we need interaction with other believers, not just the 10 people in our Sunday school class who agree with us, but the believers of past generations who have left their insights for us in writing, and the believers around the world who may have vastly different backgrounds from our own.
And, like the preacher who says"my final point is" five times in the same sermon, I boldly head into a new paragraph when I should just quit writing. . . . I have been wondering if the way we approach Bible interpretation isn't strongly influenced by our personality. For example, when I was a senior in college getting ready to head to Dallas for seminary, I took a class from a professor who graduated from the same seminary. There was one other student in my class who was also planning to attend the same seminary. This professor administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to us and mentioned that most people who attend this seminary were either an ISTJ or INTJ. Neither myself nor the other student knew our type at that time. We took the test and, wah-lah! He was an ISTJ and I was an INTJ. I went to seminary and found out that, yes, the place is swarming with ISTJs and INTJs. ISTJs, especially, just love to analyze every little concrete detail and conclude about them. INTJs love to ponder broad ideas and apply them. Perfect fit for a seminary that emphasizes detailed study of concrete details in some courses and abstract thought in others
Maybe God gave us all different personalities with different approaches to the Bible not so that we can bitter chastize each other but in order to complement on another. Maybe no one alone has everything it takes to interpret the Bible correctly. Maybe we need to be working together. There are certain personalities that I do not like or want to work with. In general, I get along fabulously with INFJs but I tend to clash strongly with ISTJs. . . ISTJ's are those strongly conservative, defender of the received truth types. I bet that John MacArthur and James Dobson are ISTJs. Funny, I am not naturally drawn to them but maybe I need their "insight for living." Wait, that's Chuck Swindoll, isn't it?
I'm sure there are people out there who just hate the self-confident arrogance and intellectual flexibility of INTJs like myself. Any thoughts?